Meaning of the American Dream for Immigrants
25 JUN 2018
The Statue of Liberty stands as an iconic beacon to immigrants coming into the United States. Immigrants associate the American dream with opportunity, a good job and home ownership. The United States offers a less hierarchical society that provides more opportunities than many other countries while also allowing immigrants to assume a full American identity. Through home ownership and entrepreneurship, immigrants have helped to grow the U.S. economy and improve the economic condition of their communities and families; however, immigrants continue to face barriers in acquiring a higher education, which facilitates good employment.
1 Defining the American Dream
The American dream has many different meanings. U.S.-born citizens usually associate it with such themes as wealth, financial security, freedom and even family. Immigrants in the U.S., however, are more likely to define the American dream as endless positive possibilities, a good job, owning a home and in many cases, safety from war or persecution. While U.S.-born citizens have increasingly viewed the American dream as becoming harder to reach, immigrants have remained more positive and hopeful about their potential to achieve it.
2 Opportunity for Immigrants
The American dream can mean the absence of roadblocks that immigrants would face in many other countries. One such roadblock is the presence of a rigid social hierarchy that restricts social mobility. The U.S. offers a more flexible social hierarchy than many other countries, presenting more opportunity for immigrants. Identity formation can be another roadblock. An immigrant can settle in Japan or France, for example, without ever truly becoming identified as Japanese or French within the society. Immigrants from any ethnic heritage or racial background are able to come to America and be identified, in every sense of the term, as American.
While discussing the American dream during a speech in 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama drew a direct connection between home ownership and immigration, saying that immigrants striving to achieve the American dream of owning their own home raises home values, which benefits the economy overall. Attesting to the significance of home ownership for immigrants, real estate offices, banks, and public-sector agencies have refocused their business models to cater to immigrants, such as hiring staff from different ethnic groups and designing new products and ad campaigns directed at specific immigrant communities.
4 Education and Employment for Immigrants
While immigrants in America's past identified cultural intolerance and language as their primary setbacks, more recent immigrants reported that finding employment and affordable housing were their greatest difficulties. Immigrants have tended to engage in entrepreneurship more than U.S.-born citizens, which has been one primary factor in the economic success of their communities and families. Achieving the American dream of a good job, however, is now almost impossible without at least some college education, but immigrants overall tend to reach a lower educational level than U.S.-born citizens. In addition to difficulties related to literacy and a lack of information about college, immigrant students, while highly motivated, are often also restrained by greater family and work responsibilities outside the classroom. Immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as younger children, however, tend to achieve educational levels that equal those of their U.S.-born peers.
- 1 Xavier University: Center for the Study of the American Dream: The American Dream Survey
- 2 The Times-Tribune: Immigrants Continue to Pursue the American Dream; Jim Lockwood
- 3 Understanding America: Why Does America Welcome Immigrants?; Matthew Spalding
- 4 Tucson Sentinel: 'American Dream' Tied to Immigration Reform; Joseph Garcia
- 5 Institute for Higher Education Policy: Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants; Wendy Erisman, et al.